The Ramming of U-581
The Azores, 2 February 1942

HMS Westcott rammed and sank U-581 off Pico island in the Azores on the 2 February 1942 with
Cdr. Ian Hamilton Bockett-Pugh, RN in command. The photographs of U-581 sinking after being rammed and scuttled were supplied by Alan Chitty, the son of Ordinary Signalman Albert Edward (Ted) Chitty (1922-2009) but there is some doubt about the author of this description of the sinking of the U-Boat which was published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association.

We left 'Gib' for the Azores to pick up a troop ship, the Llangibby Castle which was laden with one thousand British personnel, she had been struck by a torpedo which badly damaged her rudder and steering gear and had pulled into the Azores but under the three day rule she had to leave the harbour. We were accompanied by the Exmoor and Croome. Exmoor took up station outside the Northern entrance and Croome the South while we took up position outside the harbor for it was known that U-boats were in the area waiting for the troop ship to come out. Just as the forenoon watch was taking over the alarm bells went and there in front of us on the surface was a U-boat which appeared to be steering the same course as ourselves. We increased to full speed with the intentions of ramming her but only struck her a glancing bow. We soon overtook her and as we came alongside a depth charge pattern set to shallow was dropped and as we turned 'X' and 'Y' guns were able to get a few rounds off at her too. Skipper had intended to ram her but thought better of it, however the collision damaged our stokers mess deck.  

At this point the German U-boat crew were jumping over the side, we managed to haul forty-one officers and men aboard including Captain Pfeifer.

The interrogation of the survivors by Naval Intelligence in April 1942 can be read on and gives an unusually detailed account of events leading up to the ramming.
Action Stations!
Action Stations!
Courtesy of Alan Chitty

U-581 sinking after being rammedsurvivors

survivors of U-581
The ramming of U-581 by HMS Westcott and the rescue of survivors
The pall of black smoke as U-581 breaks in half and sinks, survivors struggling in the water and coming alongside Westcott in a dingy

Courtesy of Alan Chitty

The surviving crew members were put in the damaged stokers mess with an armed rating to stand guard over the hatch to the mess.  Captain Pfeifer delivered a formal protest in writing when he arrived on board.

 The Protest
Captain Pfeifer

(1) When being followed up, boat got gradually took on water without influence of the enemy. The consequence was to rise to the surface as soon as possible. The boat was in distress at sea.  

(2) According to our navigation (controlled by taking bearings on the coast) boat was four miles off the coast before the persecution, afterwards boat was steering East course for some time, later on when coming to the conclusion to emerge about ten minutes 70 degrees. After emerging boat was steaming on 70 degrees. The stream was setting NNE.  

(3) The boat would have been ready with lay down 24 hours in a neutral port.

(4) In spite of the possibility to shoot, boat did not launch torpedoes. I made no use of the gun because it was the neutral zone.  

(5) After having seen that the boat should be rammed by the destroyer or should be covered with depth charges I commanded All men off the boat.   (

6) The depth charges did not disturb the boat hardly because it was on the surface. I myself gave the order to sink the boat. It was flooded by the Chief Engineer who left the sinking boat with me.  

(7) Of course of above we beg for delivery to a neutral country.  

Pfeifer Kptlt.

While the survivors, more than forty in number, were being picked up the Commanding Officer of Westcott, Lt. Comdr. Bocket-Pugh had taken the opportunity of fixing the position.  Having ascertained that it was outside territorial waters he rejected the protest.  With regard to the first item, unseaworthy U-boats, he considered should stay in harbour and, if at sea should show "Not under control lights". The second was very vague and proved nothing and his comment on the third was "It would probably have been ready within one minute if the Llangibby Castle had been observed to sail".   As for the rest of the protest it seemed to him that after the first attempt at ramming and the pattern of depth charges, that was justifiable enough, panic on board. The enemy realised that the outline of the U-boat had not been lost against the background of Pico Island as had been hoped, the torpedo tubes were not ready and the gun was out of action. Either through panic or because the U-boat was too damaged to be fought, they decided, before Westcott ran in for her second attack to abandon ship.

The three destroyers continued with their patrol until Llangibby Castle was observed to be heading into the Fayal Channel. Westcott steamed into the channel and signalled the liner to steer for the Southern end, which had been so satisfactorily cleared.   It was considered that since there had been a U-boat at the Southern end of the Fayal Channel there would also be one at the Northern end. Therefore, Westcott went ahead of the liner, telling her the good news as she went by, and exhorting her to make for the open sea and to steam 'Like Hell'.  

Llangibby Castle was headstrong and was refusing to obey her Master and steer North, then went off to the West. Later she changed her mind and went East-South-East down the channel between Pico Island and San Jorge Island. She apparently knew better than her master, for there lurking off Ribeirinha Point was another U-boat and it could do nothing but bring up the rear of the convoy as they passed between the two islands at 8 knots.   Out in the open sea the liner which had been steering by her engines felt the full force of a South-easterly wind and the Master decided to take a tow from the tug Thames which had been standing by.   While the tow was being passed Croome sighted a U-boat some five miles away as it was coming out of the channel. Exmoor and Croome carried out depth charge attacks which may have discouraged her from pursueing the attack  further.   On each of the following days U-boats were sighted, but Llangibby Castle was not attacked and arrived with all her passengers safely in Gibraltar

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Westcott you should first obtain a copy of their service record
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